Top Foods and Habits For A Healthy Brain

Most of us know someone with some type of neurological disease. Globally, neurological disease accounts for over 6% of disease burden, and it can be extremely traumatic for both the individual and their family. Diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis (MS), stroke, and headache disorders all fall into this category.

At the present, conventional medicine lacks effective and long-term treatments for most of these diseases, and most are seen as irreversible. Prevention is by far the best option. To keep our nervous system healthy and functioning optimally, we must keep channels of communication open between the gut and the brain. This is referred to as the gut-brain axis. A healthy intestinal microbiome facilitates efficient communication between the gut and the brain. Therefore, supporting our microbiome with good nutrition is key. Stress, certain medications, inadequate sleep, junk food, and vitamin deficiencies can all impact your microbiome and cause your “good bacteria” to be replaced by “bad bacteria”. Below I will dive into some of my favorite foods and habits to help optimize brain health and function.

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3 Things You Need to Know About Buying Oil

Fats and oils are a huge part of a healthy diet and should be included at every meal. Optimizing your choice of oils is essential in preserving cognitive function, reducing inflammation, and creating hormones. Unfortunately, understanding what types of fats to eat and avoid has been a huge source of confusion, and as more options become available, I feel the confusion has only increased. This article will serve as your shopping guide on what to use and when to use them.

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Top 10 Ingredients to Avoid

A quick walk down almost any isle of the grocery store will expose you to a host of toxic ingredients that are fueling the epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Items in which many consider to be “food” more so resemble science projects, as the majority of the ingredients are chemicals most have never heard of and that surely don’t sound like anything anyone would want to eat. In other words, they’re “frankenfoods”.

You are probably wondering, “So how do I know which foods are safe and which to avoid?” A good rule of thumb is if the food has more than 5 ingredients, or multiple ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf. Otherwise, here is a quick and dirty list of some of the top offenders that should be avoided as often as possible.

  1. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils AKA trans-fats –  The purpose of these fats is to prolong the shelf life of products. They have been shown to increase bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, slow your metabolism, and cause obesity, heart attacks, dementia, inflammation and cancer. The FDA has declared trans fats unsafe and banned their use. However, small amount still remain in the food supply. Commonly found in: peanut butter, non-dairy creamer, baked goods
  2. High fructose corn syrup – This is a highly processed sweetener made from corn. It is incredibly cheap to make and even sweeter than sugar. As reviewed in this study, it has been associated with increased risk of fatty liver when consumed in excess amounts. It has also been show to lead to insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Commonly found in: ice cream, pop, desserts, peanut butter, bread, salad dressing, canned fruit, candy
  3. Artificial sweeteners – This group includes aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and acesulfame potassium (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet). According to this study, (plublished this month!)  high intake of artificially sweetened beverages (>2 per day) was associated with an increased risk of stroke, coronary artery disease and all-cause mortality. Commonly found in – diet pop, “sugar-free” foods, yogurt, gum, zero calorie flavored water
  4. Artificial flavors – These are fake flavors used to make frankenfoods taste more palatable. Each flavor can contain up to 100 ingredients, including synthetic chemicals, solvents and preservatives such as BHA, propylene glycol, MSG, parabens, and more. The FDA recently banned 7 ingredients used to make artificial flavors as they have been shown to cause cancer in animal studies. However, food companies have TWO years to remove these ingredients from their products. They are also not required to disclosed if their product contains these ingredients, leaving consumers completely clueless to what they are consuming. Refer to this article for more information on this topic. Commonly found in: cereal, candy, desserts, drink mixes, pop
  5. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – Used as a flavor enhancer. It increases food cravings and has been linked to chronic pain, headaches, obesity, depression, and mental disorders. Commonly found in: Chinese food, frozen meals, chips, salad dressing
  6. Carrageenen – Commonly used as a thickening and stabilizing agent. Although it is derived from seaweed and considered a “natural” ingredient, it has been associated with a host of issues, particularly related to the gastrointestinal system. The inflammation it causes can lead to ulcerations and bleeding. According to research conducted by Joanne Tobacman, MD, there may also be a connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer. Commonly found in: almond milk, coconut milk, ice cream, deli meat, cottage cheese
  7. Artificial colors – These have been linked to anything from hyperactivity in children to cancer. Commonly found in: ice cream, baked goods, cereal, pop, gum, popsicles, fruit snacks
  8. Canola oil/soybean oil/corn oil – These are highly processed oils that go rancid very quickly, which causes inflammation when consumed. Refer to my previoud post, Fat: Friend or Foe, for more information on this topic. Commonly found in: chips, bread, nuts, granola bars, baked goods, cereal, salad dressing
  9. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – A synthetic preservative shown to be an endocrine disrupter. National Toxicology Program has classified it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Commonly found in: Sausage, pepperoni, pizza, canned soup, instant potatoes, potato chips, drink mixes, spaghetti sauce, gum
  10. Butlated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – Another synthetic preservative. This one has been shown to impact the signaling that tells us we are full, which could contribute to overeating and obesity. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals. Commonly found in: potato chips, cereal, instant potatoes, dry beverage and dessert mixes, gum

Did you find one of these ingredients in any of your favorite foods? Which one? Comment below!

Organic: Is it Worth the Hype?

The increasing popularity of organic agriculture has been a source of confusion to many. What are the benefits? Is organic actually better? Could the crops and livestock feed be contaminated with herbicides and pesticides from neighboring non-organic farms? These are all valid questions in which I will help you navigate in this post.

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What the Heck Should I Eat?!

The contradicting information spread throughout society and the media has only further confused an already muddled understanding on what is or is not “healthy”. Do I eat eggs or avoid them? Should I use butter or margarine? Are sweeteners better than sugar? These are but a few questions I am approached with on a near daily basis. The low fat and fat free craze of the late 1900s that continues on today demonizes fat, and therefore, promotes a greater intake of carbohydrates as not only fruit and vegetables, but in the forms of highly processed breads, pastas, and cereals, to name a few.

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